Agius star still shining bright Published on: 10-04-2012

On a weekend when veteran stalwarts Paul Scholes and Raul served up a reminder of their enduring brilliance with fine strikes in wins for Manchester United and Schalke 04, Malta’s own golden oldie played a starring role in Saturday’s title showdown between Valletta and Hibs.

A goal down with only six minutes of the first half remaining, Valletta needed a moment of inspiration and, as he has done countless times during his career, Gilbert Agius, City’s indefatigable captain, came to the rescue.

Agius underlined his innate scoring ability and competitive spirit when eluding a posse of players to meet Denni’s corner with a thumping header that nestled into the corner of the net.

A minor hamstring injury forced Agius to come off at half-time but that didn’t really matter as he had already laid the platform for his team’s comeback win.

“We knew that this was a very important game for several reasons,” Agius told The Times.

“The result was going to have an impact on the classification, it was a direct clash and, as the coach said beforehand, we were facing the only team we had not beaten this season.

“From a personal perspective, it was one of the few matches where I was in the starting team. So, I was determined to make a significant contribution.

“I was happy to score but I’m more satisfied about the three points and the team’s performance in the second half.

“I’ve seen my goal celebrations on TV and my emotions were evident. I think everyone has realised what it meant to score such an important goal for the team.”

Age and increased competition from younger players have reduced Agius’s first-team opportunities but his desire to play regularly has not diminished one iota.

“I’m 38 and this season I haven’t been utilised regularly (by the coach),” Agius said.

“I don’t complain but obviously I want to play. I accept that our squad is competitive and it’s not easy to play every game.

“When I’m not playing, I continue to train normally and with greater determination. Whenever I’ve been asked to play, I’ve always done my best to make myself useful.”

Thanks to Saturday’s win, Valletta maintained their march towards the title as they are now six points clear of Hibs with only five games left.

Valletta have been billed as sure favourites to retain the title since last summer but Agius insisted that the season has been anything but easy.

“Since the start of the league, ours has been an uphill task,” Agius said.

“After becoming champions without defeat last season, it was always going to be hard to match that consistency.

“Winning a championship is difficult but staying at the top is even harder. The expectations this season are a lot higher.”

Although Valletta have moved closer to winning the title, Agius urged caution.

“The league is not over yet,” he said.

“We must keep our feet ground-ed. There is no denying that we have made an important step as we now have a six-point advantage.

“The signs are positive. Our performance in the first half of the game against Floriana and the second half of the Hibs match show that the work we’re doing in training is reaping dividends.

“All the players who have been in the team since the start of the league have been instrumental . Even those who may not have had regular first-team action deserve credit because they have all done their part.”

Agius is a one-off not just because of his talent and achievements but also because, in the current team, he’s the only player who is Valletta through and through.

Asked if he was worried about the dearth of homegrown players, Agius replied: “If there are more homegrown youngsters who show that they deserve to be in the first squad, those who choose the squad would pick them.

“Valletta are expected to win every game and that creates a lot of pressure. The club’s policy is to recruit top-level Maltese and foreign players. At the moment, there seems to be a shortage of home-grown players at the club but if there’s a really outstanding talent coming through, I’m sure that he would get his chance.”

Although Agius is in the home straight of his career, there are some who believe that he can still be an asset for the national team, es-pecially coming off the bench.

There is also a lingering sense of frustration that Agius was not given the chance to set a new record of appearances for the national team as, at the time of his omission from the squad some two years ago, he was only two short of David Cara-bott’s mark of 121 caps.

“I’m focusing on our remaining five league matches,” Agius said.

“We’re also in the semi-final of the FA Trophy. The national team will soon have a new coach but to be honest, I think my chances of playing again for Malta are remote as I’ve been out of the squad for two years. It’s difficult to play for Valletta, never mind the national team.”

As the end of the season draws closer, Agius will have to address the recurring dilemma whether to play on or retire.

“I’ve already spoken to some key people at Valletta about my future,” Agius said.

“I will make a final decision in the coming months.

“I hope to end this season on a high as that will make my decision easier. I’ve already received offers to play for other clubs as well as other job proposals.”

How would Agius rate his chances of extending his career if he had to make a decision soon?

“Today... the enthusiasm to keep playing is very high,” he replied.

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